Michaelangelo and God's Touch

“I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

One of my favorite framed prints in the study at home is
Michaelangelo’s depiction of God giving life to Adam. The original, of course, is on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel. My humble print focuses solely on the two hands, God right hand and Adam’s left. Google “Michaelangelo creation” for a refresher on the scene.

I’m looking at it as I write. God’s hand, again the right hand, is stretched out, as is His entire arm. The index finger strains forward, nearly closing the final half-inch. The hand is rotated slightly inward, reflecting God’s effort.

In fact, take a moment and push back an arm’s length from your computer screen. Reach forward to touch it with your right index finger, then move a few inches farther back. Try again to touch it. Notice what your hand does as the right side of your body pulls forward. The tendon on the back of your hand will pull a bit tighter, and the entire hand turns in effort. You can see this in the painting. It is the moment of Adam’s creation, and God is straining with every fiber.

Adam’s hand is also stretched out, but not really mirroring God’s hand and arm at all. Adam is languid, leaning back in the full fresco. The hand reflects his body. He is not reaching out to God with nearly the same energy God is reaching out to him. The left hand dips, the index finger hardly rising above the others.  He is willing to receive God’s first and greatest gift, but his hand is a study in anatomical insouciance.

I’m no expert in Michaelangelo, but in these two hands the
theology equals or exceeds the artistry. Of course, he had in mind Genesis, but I wonder if he also thought about the gospel of John.

The parallels between the first book of the Bible and the Fourth Gospel are obvious from the first words in each “In the beginning.” The first chapter of both concerns life. In fact, surprisingly to some Christians, John reveals to us that Jesus was the agent of Creation. He was the Word that spoke, and that which was made in Him was life (1:4). Michael Angelo certainly saw these same parallels.

I’m sure he also noted the theme of life throughout the Gospel,
and I wonder if John 10:10, in particular, shows up in the hands in the fresco. “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” The fact that Jesus came, served, and died reflect God’s straining effort to bring life to all who believe.

Michaelangelo certainly knew that in Genesis God breathed life into Adam (2:7). Yet in the fresco he depicted God as reaching out to give life by a touch. I doubt, this artist ever painted anything accidentally. Did he have something deeper in mind he wanted to depict about the giver of life? The Gospel may have affected him here too.

Jesus often “touched” to perform His miracles, and in chapter
9 Jesus gave sight to a blind man by touching his eyes. Chapter 10 is a continuation of the dispute with the Pharisees over that very miracle, and in this discussion Jesus declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd who gives life to His flock. He came that we might have life, and not just any life, but abundant life.

The Creator longs to be The Giver, of physical life, but also deeply meaningful and eternal life. His touch became flesh 2000 years ago, and He surrounds you this very moment, longing to bring the gift to full flower. He wants you to have abundant life.

God still strains forward. In His great faithfulness He reaches out to you every day, wanting to touch your heart, your, soul, your
mind. He is reaching out to you now. His touch is a whisper, a reminder. You will find Him in His Word, in the people He has brought your way, in nature, in quiet moments of reflection, and yes, in art.  He is never silent, and He is not still. Your greatest challenge is to close the narrow gap between you and Him. He has
reached as far as His providence allows. His gift of your free will gives you the ability to reach back to Him.


Dr. Terry Ellis

April 15, 2012